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Rubicon: "Wayward Sons"

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The good guys lose in the penultimate episode of Rubicon, and they lose hard. Up until now, the show has taken place in what's, more or less, our world. But now, it breaks with our reality and heads off into its own world, and while I have no idea where it will go from here, it's thrilling to watch. Kateb, so recently crossed over into the United States, is successful in taking out his intended target, which turns out to be an oil tanker in Galveston Bay, an action that will cripple the U.S. oil industry for months. (I have no idea if this was the original plan for the series, but many of the pieces add up all the way back to the Horwitch episodes, and the attempt to downplay the British Petroleum oil spill of earlier this year also suggests that this was all conceived of long ago.) It's a chilling sequence, even with some pretty overstated rhetoric from the news anchor on the TV, and it's made even more chilling by the way Truxton and Will react - with smiles and tears of disbelief, respectively.

If this is the only season of Rubicon we ever get - and I still think AMC will take a chance and pick up the show for another season - then this is an appropriately horrific place for it all to end. In a conspiracy thriller, sometimes the bad guys are just too numerous, and sometimes, the protagonists are just not good enough at keeping up with them. Sure, Will figures out what Kateb is up to, but he figures it out roughly simultaneously with Kateb taking out the tanker. He's smart, but he's just not smart enough. He's sacrificed so much to figure all of this stuff out, and when he finally does, he's just too late. His tears at the end of the episode might be James Badge Dale's best acting moment in the series, the utter sorrow of a man who banked heavily on being the smartest man in the room and was proved wrong.

I didn't like "Wayward Sons" as much as last week's episode (in some ways, it seems to almost subconsciously be mirroring that one), but it's still a pretty terrific hour of television. I'm uncertain of the attempts to humanize Kateb this late in the game. Certainly, this was necessary, since we haven't spent all season cutting between Will and Joe Purcell, as he zeroed in on his deadly target and introducing the true identity of Kateb earlier would have ruined some of the storytelling. (And come to think of it, a series that cuts between terrorists and the authorities trying to stop them could be pretty great. And yes, I know Sleeper Cell was pretty much that, but I'm thinking more pure here, with little cross-pollination between the groups.) Henry Bromell has used the "cutting between both sides of the law" technique to pretty great effect on Brotherhood, but I think it was almost introduced too late here to really work. Though the shot of Kateb heading off toward his final destination as "Carry On My Wayward Son" played was pretty great.

That said, I did like much of the attempt to humanize Kateb via his friends and family when Will and Grant headed to New Jersey to talk to anyone who might have known Joe Purcell. In particular, I was taken by how deeply personal these memories were for the friends and family of Joe, how much it seemed to pain them to think of a man who'd simply disappeared from their lives and gone off to do something else, something likely nefarious. The scene where our heroes talk with Joe's old girlfriend about how he came to be a sympathizer with Muslim extremists was a terrific one, as the heroes kept pushing for more information, a bit of code that could unlock just who Joe is, even as his girlfriend found these memories too painful to bear. Then cut, immediately, to Kateb/Joe in his hotel room, addressing a letter to this very girl, about to go make history in the worst way possible. For his ex-girlfriend, he'll be a guy who carried out a highly successful terrorist operation, sure, but he'll also always be her first love, and that divide may prove difficult for her to bear.

And yet our team relentlessly tries to track down just where Kateb will strike, government officials getting in the way at every turn. (Would the API bunch have come up with the Houston strike in time to stop it without the government stumbling around every corner? The episode doesn't come right out and say it, but it's heavily implied.) Grant and Will push more and more for just the facts from the people they interview, even as Will should probably know better, should probably know that the real brains behind this operation is back in his office, merrily helping everyone out by suggesting targets like the Golden Gate Bridge and making sure Miles, Julia, and Tanya are able to work in the fashion they want and not the fashion the government wants. Truxton Spangler knows that everyone is too late. He knows that it's started, and when the whole attack goes down, all he can do is marvel.

This is perhaps the best episode for Truxton yet. He has a lengthy, subtext-laden conversation with Kale. He enlivens what could have been a deathly dull meeting of the conspirators by checking his ringing cell phone with glee to tell them it's "starting." He seems ever so slightly nervous about just what he and his conspirators are about to do, about the new world they're going to give birth to. Even the fact that Will has survived the assassination attempt doesn't seem to faze him. He just sends the kid off to New Jersey and hopes that if he does figure out what's about to happen, he'll be too late. Which is exactly what happens.


There's an argument to be made here that Will should catch on much sooner to just what Truxton and the Atlas gang are up to. I can certainly see that point of view, but I'd say that within the context of the story, Will might have a hard time believing his boss was going to execute an attack against his own country, no matter how much money it might make him. There are some lines you just don't cross, some things you just don't do, no matter how much it might stand to benefit you. Will is still operating within this framework, but he needs to be operating in a framework post-Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon. The war has come to his doorstep, borne on the back of men he thought he could trust, and though he could have put it together in time - he had the pieces - he simply wasn't capable of the kind of thought that would have put him on the right path.

This is all driven home from a brusquely delivered monologue by Kale. All season long, we've been wondering when the phrase "crossing the Rubicon" might pop up, and it finally does here, as Kale attempts to explain to Katherine just why her husband might have committed suicide (to protect her, which strikes me as a bit convoluted, but fine). There are two kinds of people in Rubicon: those who genuinely want the best for their country and those who genuinely want the best for themselves. It's to the series' credit that it recognizes that these two lines blend and shift with alarming rapidity. It's also to the series' credit that it understands Caesar crossing the Rubicon was a grand celebration for some. In the world of Rubicon, the United States crumbles - as many empires do - because good men simply don't have wicked enough imaginations.


Stray observations:

  • After spending the last few weeks rehabilitating Katherine, Rubicon turns its focus toward Maggie in this episode. I'm not sure that I like the show making her derelict in her duty of guarding Katherine, but I at least like that the show gave her a compelling reason to act this way (since Will needed her help and seemed to be on to something). The way she talks her way into Andy's apartment and then her bathroom is great, and it finally makes me think the series could have more to do with this character.
  • And now a few silent moments for Andy, who is finally, probably off the show for good after this one. (I have not seen the season finale, so maybe she turns up there, but I somehow doubt it.)
  • For those of you wondering when the Bromell interview will go live, it should be up sometime this week in advance of the finale, likely Friday. And if you're hoping to get a grand answer as to why Horwitch left, well, he's perfected the art of the Hollywood non-answer. (I still think the grand proof here is in the show itself. The episodes Horwitch was involved with seem of a very different, much more conspiracy-driven show than the workplace drama Bromell came up with.)
  • We get one final mystery: Whatever could Meet Me in St. Louis have to do with anything?
  • I don't know if anybody here watches The Good Wife, but Dallas Roberts (a clean-shaven Dallas Roberts) turned up in the next week on previews on that show this past week. He's playing Juliana Margulies' brother-in-law or something. Check it out Tuesday, I guess.